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Cumulative and Coordinate Adjectives


Where to place adjectives?

Adjectives are placed:

  • before a noun which they modify
  • or after a verb like be, feel, seem, look.

Examples:

  • They bought a big house.(Attributive adjectives)
  • They are nice. (Predicative adjective)

Cumulative or coordinate adjectives

When adjectives pile up in front of a noun, however, you may sometimes have difficulty arranging them. Such a string of adjectives can be either cumulative or coordinate adjectives.

Coordinate Adjectives

These are adjectives that separately modify a noun. Their order can be scrambled and they can be joined by and. A comma is needed to separate each coordinate adjective. But if there is the word 'and' no comma is needed.

Example:

  • While strolling in the woods, they found a strange, mysterious and frightened child.
  • The dull, incessant droning.

Two rules indicate whether a string of adjectives are coordinate or not. Adjectives are considered coordinate:

1. If the meaning would be the same if their order were reversed

2. Or if and were placed between them.

Cumulative Adjectives

When adjectives pile up to jointly describe the noun and need to be arranged in a specific order, they are called cumulative adjectives. No commas are needed to separate the adjectives.

Example:

  • He bought a wonderful old French car.
  • The cute little cottage.

The above adjectives are not considered coordinate the word 'and cannot be placed between them.

Cumulative adjectives generally follow a certain order of arrangement.

Opinion good - attractive - beautiful, delicious...
Size large - small - enormous...
Age old - new - modern - young...
Length or shape long - short - square - round...
Color red - blue - green...
Origin (nationality, religion) American - French -Muslim - Christian...
Material plastic - woolen - wooden - cotton..
Purpose electric (wire) - tennis (shirt)

It should be noted that long strings of cumulative adjectives tend to be awkward. It would be acceptable to use no more than two or three of them.

Examples:

  • An attractive young American lady.
  • A modern Japanese electric car.
  • A big square blue box.

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